Acquiring accreditation and operating licenses for local tour operators remains a contentious issue as the National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) continues to delay processing permits.

Tour operators around South Africa have describe the situation as a “crisis” as businesses are forced to retrench staff or shut down. One tour operator describes the NPTR’s failure to process applications as “criminal sabotage” of the tourism industry.

Denis Pulé is the former owner of one such business that was forced to close after NPTR failed to process his vehicle permit applications after a year. “We lost at least R1 million in the business and I was forced to retrench nine people with families of their own,” Denis says. “There are lots of contributing factors [to the business’s closure], but a major one was the NPTR.”

An established and accredited South African tour operator spoke to Tourism Update anonymously and says industry stakeholders are “desperate to get the current board [of the NPTR] fired”.

“The industry is losing hundreds of millions of rands,” the tour operator says.

The Southern African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) collected data based on submissions by industry players about the status of their applications. The data does not represent the entire industry and all their applications, but clearly shows a problem.

Satsa’s data indicates that, of those businesses who reported NPTR difficulties to Satsa, over a third of applications have been outstanding for more than a year, while another 18% of applications have been outstanding for between seven and 12 months. The NPTR has only completed 32% of all the applications reported to Satsa. Besides the applications for operator accreditation, there are also 233 individual vehicle permits currently outstanding. These vehicles cannot operate while waiting for their licenses and generate no income, but operators still have to pay vehicle premiums and insurance premiums, while hiring in alternative vehicles or turning away business. 

While Satsa and SA Tourism have managed to arrange meetings and workshops with the Department of Transport and the NPTR over the course of the last six months, Satsa ceo David Frost says there has yet to be any real change at the regulator.

“There were meetings with the Director-Generals of Transport and Tourism in December, followed by workshops earlier this year. At those workshops the NPTR said it wanted to hear from industry, so Satsa composed a letter. The NPTR wrote back denying there was a major problem,” David said.

“It is absurd, insane. It’s suicide that legitimate tourism businesses, both large and emerging, can’t get licensed purely because of government ineptitude and lack of capacity,” David told Tourism Update on the side-lines of this week’s Satsa conference, held at the Wild Coast Sun in Kwazulu-Natal.

Also speaking to Tourism Update at the Satsa conference, TBCSA ceo Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa says that further action “is not off the table”.

“We will explore what action we can take, but it will not be mild, and it will seek to offer relief on this issue. We will not back down,” Tshifhiwa adds.

Tourism Update contacted the NPTR and Department of Transport for comment, but despite numerous calls and emails we had received no response by the time of publication. -